Redemption and evolution

I read on Facebook an article someone posted about The Mount of Olives Cemetery being desecrated in Jerusalem. Then I read the vitriolic comments against any and every Muslim everywhere in the world. Both the content of the article, and the comments were profoundly distressing, because it seems we keep going around and around and around, mired in both ancient and recent hatreds. I had the usual barrage of emotions and lamentations, ‘When will this end?’, ‘Never. It’s been going on for thousands of years. It’ll never change.’, ‘Why can’t we get along with our neighbors?’ Nothing of what I was thinking hadn’t been thought a million times before by millions of people.

My next thought may not have been original but it was sobering. I remembered this: “Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity — in all this vastness — there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us. It’s been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”–Carl Sagan

As it has in the past, this commencement address made me cry, in a way that news articles usually don’t, however disturbing. When I finished sniffling into my box of tissues, I realized that the reason it always makes me cry is because for me, it contains what Ray Bradbury referred to in Something Wicked This Way Comes as ‘the sound truth makes being said’.

I have struggled with the concept of organized religion my whole life, at once fascinated and resistant, despite my upbringing as an Ashenazic Jew. What I found in my exposure to religion was not God, but the many faces of humanity: our need for ritual, our inventiveness, our impressive capacity for resilience and hope, compassion and empathy, and also our nearly unimaginable capacity for cruelty and malice. The anthropological world has analyzed myths and argued about the faces of the gods and demons being the faces of man, in every possible incarnation. I agree. But like other humans, I need more than that conclusion.  I guess that when I read stories, I’m searching for our creation of God, for something that will show me the better side of our natures. Most of the stories I write have an overriding theme in which monsters evolve into something better than they were when they started. Not all of them. Some of them cater to my love of horror, the monsters in my own closet. But my favorite stories to read and write are about redemption and evolution, not in the eyes of an anthropomorphic or even nebulous god of organized religion, but toward our own survival as a species, as Carl Sagan specified, the individual adoption of compassion and empathy that will ultimately allow us to continue on the pale blue dot. It is the evidence of individual evolution in the faces of my fellow creatures, whether that evolution is physical, psychological, or emotional, that shows me more than any book or doctrine could, the evidence of a great and ordered, or even a divine force.

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